5 reasons recruiters reject applications

As you may know, I worked as a recruiter in the corporate world for eight years before becoming a career coach in 2017.

I screened literally thousands of CVs and job applications and saw a massive mix of good ones, bad ones, and ones that were obviously submitted in a hurry!

In this article, I share the five most common mistakes I saw on job applications, to help give you the best chance of success.

Mistake no. 1: Poor description of work experience

Candidates are often pretty good at describing their role at a high level, without any achievements or specific examples of what they were responsible for. Recruiters love relevant statistics, so add these in where you can. For example, “increased client revenue by 50% in the first two months”, “reduced customer complaints by 25% within six months”, or “grew social media followers on Facebook from 0 to 1,000 users in three months”.

Mistake no 2: Generic motivation in cover letter

Your cover letter is your opportunity to share your unique selling point, as well as get across your personal motivation. It’s important you get across your genuine motivation for the role, as well as the company itself. This doesn’t involve gushing or sucking up, it requires you to reflect on what genuinely appeals to you about working there. Be clear and specific about your reasons, and be sure to explain your why – why are these reasons important to you? Don’t simply list out what you have done (i.e. I’ve worked in this area before) – explain why you did those things, what you learnt from them, and how they made your motivation stronger.

Mistake no 3: Not answering the specific question being asked

Many job applications will require candidates to answer written competency or motivation questions. It’s super important that you respond to the exact question being asked by the employer. Don’t copy and paste your answer from a previous application form. Wording matters, so you need to ensure you are tailoring your answer to the exact wording being asked, and that you are answering all parts of the question. It can help to plan your structure in advance, for example, if they ask “Why are you applying to become a marketing assistant at our company?”, you might want to spend 50% of your answer on the first part of the question, and 50% answering the second part.

Mistake no. 4: Failure to proofread everything

Double, triple and quadruple-check your spelling and grammar on your CV, cover letter, and anything else you submit as part of your application. If you’ve read your application so many times the words are losing meaning, try reading your written answers backwards (i.e., start at the end and read it backwards) to check word by word you are happy with the detail. Ask a friend, family member or mentor to give it a final proofread. Services such as Grammarly can offer feedback on the grammar of your answers, but be sure to do your own final checks to ensure you are happy with any suggested changes.

And most importantly…

Mistake no. 5: Failure to network alongside written job applications  

It’s a sad reality that many ‘cold’ job applications (ones submitted by candidates that haven’t had a conversation with someone that works there) get ignored or rejected. This is especially the case with experienced hire (as opposed to graduate level) job vacancies. Aim to have a conversation with as many people as you can that work at your desired company. This could be at a formal networking event, or through a personal introduction on LinkedIn. For more guidance on how networking can support your job search, take a look at this blog.  

Want more recruiter insights and job search tips?

My book, ‘Graduate Careers Uncovered: Tools and insights from a former recruiter to demystify your job search’ is available now on Amazon.

“Although this book is aimed at graduates, I would say that 95% of the content can be applied to anyone looking to further their career through a new role.” – S H Rawle, Amazon reviewer.

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